The idea comes to him from a bus shelter poster: We’ll get the compensation you deserve. A poorly-worded advert, accidentally honest, but it makes him think. He’s been looking for something new.
Two weeks later, Claim4U opens on a main road in Croydon. The shutter rises, and within half an hour the first client comes in. She is perfect: pink tracksuit, red face, double buggy banging against the doorway.
“You do claims, yeah?”
“All sorts of claims.”
“What is it then, no-win no-fee?”
“No fee at all.”
“How’s that work?” Her eyes narrow. She knows enough about the world not to trust this man with his cheap suit and promises of free money.
He chuckles to acknowledge and approve of her scepticism. “We’re a charity.”
“Like Citizens Advice?”
“A bit, yeah. All we ask is that you agree that when you die, the money we win for you goes back to us – so that we can help more people who’ve been hard done by, like yourself.”
“And I don’t pay anything at all?”
“Not a penny.”
Until now she’s been holding the buggy, ready to leave. Now she parks it and sits on the plastic foldaway chair he offers her. She is Chantelle McLoughlin, and she has had an accident that wasn’t her fault.
“It’s my leg, right, I think I broke my ankle or something.” She pulls up her tracksuit leg to reveal a dark nebula of a bruise.
“Ouch,” he tuts. “How did it happen?”
“I was on my way to the school with these two, and can’t have been looking where I was going cause I fell over this branch. I mean it were just lying there, you know?”
“Chantelle, this isn’t about whether or not you were looking where you were going. No-one should have to be on the lookout all the time for fallen branches or other obstacles – it’s simply dangerous.”
“I have to ask you a few questions about your injury, to make sure that you get a fair amount of compensation. Would you say it has impacted on your daily life?”
“Well, I can’t get down the stairs so easy in the morning for breakfast.”
“So it has made it harder for you to care for your children.”
“And is the bathroom upstairs?”
“Yeah, it’s just at the top of the landing.”
“So it must also be difficult for you to get to the bathroom when you’re downstairs.”
“It is a bit.”
“Chantelle, you have a very strong claim here. If you’d just like to sign this form, which as I said before, just means that in the event of your death, the money we win for you will come back to us. Then we can get you the compensation you deserve.”
He watches as she signs in looping handwriting.
“That’s great. Thank you. By the way, do you know if you’ve ever had PPI?”
There is no shortage of clients. They are the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, with PPI and whiplash and a tendency to trip, slip, or fall. It is never their fault.
For the first couple of weeks there’s a cashflow problem, but nothing he can’t sort. After that it’s a simple matter of logistics: a car accident without stopping here, a mugging gone wrong there. All at arm’s length, of course, and never more than a few a month.
Every now and again there’s a bonus, natural wastage that sends four or five figure sums flowing into his business account. It feels good: this is honest money, and sometimes he thinks he could live off this, stop his other activities and become a legitimate businessman.
But he knows he won’t. He likes money too much, and certainty – and if one thing is certain, it’s that there’s money to be made from the people who come into the building on a main road in Croydon, looking for someone to blame.